What is the Country Doing for Millennials? Not Enough

National Journal
Alex Brown
Dec. 6, 2013, 2:56 p.m.

If mil­len­ni­als are to ful­fill their prom­ise as an en­gaged, edu­cated and ser­vice-ori­ented gen­er­a­tion, they will first have to over­come a unique set of chal­lenges—such as the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions’ in­ab­il­ity to keep up with them.

“Gov­ern­ment is be­hind the busi­ness com­munity, [and the] busi­ness com­munity is be­hind this new gen­er­a­tion and how quickly they ad­apt,” said Rep. Xavi­er Be­cerra, D-Cal­if., speak­ing at a Na­tion­al Journ­al-At­lantic “New Amer­ica” for­um un­der­writ­ten by Mi­crosoft. “This new gen­er­a­tion wants to move very quickly, and we’re not keep­ing pace.”

The chal­lenge of find­ing mil­len­ni­als’ role—and provid­ing them the op­por­tun­it­ies to fill it—is a tricky one, ad­ded Uni­vi­sion’s León Krauze. “What is the coun­try do­ing for mil­len­ni­als? The an­swer is not enough,” Krauze said. “There is a danger of gen­er­a­tion­al frus­tra­tion in the United States. … The mil­len­ni­al gen­er­a­tion of­fers us more ques­tions than an­swers right now.”

But what we do know about mil­len­ni­als is prom­ising, said Be­cerra, cit­ing his own daugh­ter’s eager­ness to rally for mar­riage equal­ity. The gen­er­a­tion’s will­ing­ness to be act­ive on polit­ic­al is­sues bodes well for its abil­ity to ex­act change. For Be­cerra, that change looks something like a pro­gress­ive wish list. He cited gay mar­riage, im­mig­ra­tion re­form, and cli­mate change as is­sues where mil­len­ni­al pres­sure will force policy shifts. “The mil­len­ni­al gen­er­a­tion is not stuck up with the ta­boos of older gen­er­a­tions,” he said.

Still, that en­gage­ment on in­di­vidu­al is­sues is not al­ways coupled with high vot­ing turnout or oth­er tra­di­tion­al forms of polit­ic­al activ­ity. Mil­len­ni­als, Be­cerra said, need to get in­volved in that part of the pro­cess as well if they want to see pro­gress. “You be­gin to real­ize that you can’t just es­cape what’s go­ing on in the world by just say­ing, ‘a pox on all of you [politi­cians],’” he said. As for who’s mak­ing mil­len­ni­als so dis­il­lu­sioned with gov­ern­ment, Be­cerra had a simple an­swer: the tea party.

The gen­er­a­tion’s prom­ise for polit­ics, however, is tempered with some very im­me­di­ate chal­lenges eco­nom­ic­ally. The still-strug­gling job mar­ket of­fers few­er op­por­tun­it­ies than pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions had when they joined the work­force. Many of the pan­el­ists at the for­um, which was held at Cali­for­nia State Uni­versity, Los Angeles, said the solu­tion is bet­ter edu­ca­tion, with a fo­cus on sci­ence, tech­no­logy, en­gin­eer­ing, and math­em­at­ics. “Right now we are fail­ing our own kids,” said state Sen. Mark Wy­land, R-Cal­if., ar­guing schools need to of­fer bet­ter op­por­tun­it­ies for out­side-the-classroom learn­ing activ­it­ies.

An­oth­er of the gen­er­a­tion’s traits—ad­apt­ab­il­ity—may come in handy if loc­al job pro­spects don’t ma­ter­i­al­ize, said Dr. Emily Al­len, dean of the school’s Col­lege of En­gin­eer­ing, Com­puter Sci­ence, and Tech­no­logy.

“[Mil­len­ni­als] need to be more flex­ible and fol­low the jobs around to some ex­tent,” she said.

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